When the Madrid Peace Conference convened at the invitation of President George Bush Snr in August 1991, the then Israeli Prime Minister, Yitzhak Shamir, announced that he would negotiate with Palestinians for twenty years without making a single concession, no matter how small.
Ironically, it was Shamir’s “noble” pupil, Benjamin Netanyahu, who was speaking on behalf of the Israeli delegation at that conference. He has since taken the place of his mentor at the head of the most right-wing government in Israeli history. Netanyahu has gone on to adopt evasive policies that lead to political impasse and, though he claims to want peace, he continues with illegal settlement projects without any hesitation.
After six visits in less than four months, US Secretary of State John Kerry has forced President Mahmoud Abbas to return to the negotiating table with Netanyahu without meeting any of the preconditions that Abbas has emphasised time and again: a freeze in all settlement activity, clear benchmarks for negotiations and, more importantly, the adoption of the June 1967 borders as the basis for all negotiations.
For twenty years, Mr. Abbas and his chief negotiator Saeb Erekat have been talking with the Israelis. Just as Shamir said, twenty years have passed and the Israelis have not made one concession or abided by any agreement. Moreover, they have doubled settlement activity in the West Bank and Jerusalem such that the number of settlers now exceeds 600,000.
We do not know the reasons that prompted Abbas and Erekat to cave-in to pressure from Kerry; however, one can speculate that there is a sense of urgency and haste in bringing the two sides to the negotiating table, and the insistence that the negotiations take place behind closed doors. What Kerry wants is economic peace and to offer a bribe of $4 billion that would finance investment projects for the Palestinians in the hope that they will forget their cause entirely. Tony Blair did the same thing in Northern Ireland.
The Palestinian people’s problem with President Abbas and his government is that they are subject to experiments conducted by Israelis and Americans. They are held hostage in exchange for salaries. They have restricted the Palestinian issue to the parameters of the West Bank while 6 million Palestinians live in refugee camps or in exile and 2 million live in the Gaza Strip. Meanwhile, everyone’s fate rests in the hands of only two individuals: President Abbas and Dr. Erekat. What is disappointing about the situation is that the Palestinian people are accepting of it and, as a result, encourage exclusivity in the decision-making process.
Netanyahu will come out of these negotiations as a winner and he will do it without having made a single concession to the Palestinians, as was the case in previous rounds of negotiations. Why do I say this? Two small but significant incidents illustrate what I mean.
For a start, Netanyahu forced President Abbas and the Palestinian Authority to remove a laser beam that was installed above the tomb of the late Yasser Arafat because the beams were directed towards Jerusalem. Secondly, there is a roundabout opposite an Israeli settlement I believe it is Ariel which President Abbas and his entourage pass almost every day. A Palestinian flag was raised on the roundabout until Israel demanded that it be removed because its presence provoked the settlers. The Israelis got what they wanted in both cases.
If Netanyahu refuses to accept a laser beam being projected towards occupied Jerusalem, or a flag on a roundabout facing a settlement, will he ever accept a halt to settlement expansion or the establishment of a Palestinian state?
The fault is not in President Abbas and the small group of people who will negotiate or decide on behalf of the Palestinian people without asking their opinion; the defect is in the Palestinian elite and the Palestinian people themselves who remain silent and accepting of this shameful situation.
Perhaps Kerry is using the Palestinian card to cover up the next war America may be planning against Syria, Iran or Hezbollah, and the formation of an Israeli Arab alliance that it could use to its advantage, as was the case in the first and second Iraq wars and the war on terror. The timing of this move is suspicious and raises many questions.
President Abbas is not mandated to provide this cover, or to beautify Netanyahu’s face or the face of his government. He does, however, have the exclusive authority to speak on behalf of the Palestinians despite having plunged his nation into $2.4 billion of debt and transformed them into a group of slaves to their salaries. He has to do better for his people.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.